Have you ever had a working relationship with someone where you have a strong desire to be friendly but the responses you get never seem to support this and you can’t quite put your finger on why that is? Even worse, the other person appears to take any opportunity to ‘put you down’ or ‘put you in your place’. Often this is in subtle ways making it feel unreasonable for you to react negatively even though the feelings evoked are strongly negative. At other times, the put-down may be more dramatic or worse, more public.
What might be going on in such situations?
It’s highly likely that the person feels threatened by you in some way and responds by threatening you back. Attacking you being the best form of self-defence. Significantly, you do not realise the person feels threatened by you and all you perceive is threatening behaviour. As a result you feel threatened which may manifest itself as a fight or flight response. You feel angry and upset or you feel really crap about yourself. These feelings can be very powerful and not only spoil your day at work but can linger for weeks, months or even years.
So what can you do about it?
First of all, it’s important to spot these situations and see them more objectively. The person is only human and their responses are indeed very human. Realise that it does not actually reflect on you as such but is a reflection of them. If you can spot these situations as they arise, you can perceive them for what they are and this will take the heat out of the emotion and make your fight or flight response much smaller. Note that it’s unrealistic to expect to feel no fight or flight response at all, you are still human too, not Vulcan.
With practice, you can begin to show empathy and compassion rather than anger or hurt.
This is not to say you should put up with threatening behaviour (see this HWL article on how to be assertive rather than aggressive or passive). However, once you see the behaviour for what it is you can respond more appropriately and find your own way to respond to the individual.
Does this resonate with you?
Does this apply to any people you interact with at work?
Have you insights and strategies you can share?